Fabulous and Easy Valentine Sweets and Treats

Let me break this to you gently: Valentine’s Day is next Thursday. This is Friday. Get the picture?

Thankfully, there’s a big beautiful weekend between now and then—plenty of time to make a few of these fabulous treats and sweets!

Mini pies in a jar.  Could there be a better gift for co-workers, neighbors, friends, teachers and any number of other people than a single-serving, mini pie in a small jar? I think not! I have detailed written detailed instructions including recipes here:  The Perfect Small Gift: Pie in a Jar. It really is quite easy and the results are fabulous! I’ve been making these adorable single-serving pies for some time now, and it really is so much fun. Who can resist a small pie in a jar, right?

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Look What I Got For Christmas!

I love gadgets and apparently I’ve not kept that a secret from my friends and family. I’m still excited about these five new gadgets I got for Christmas—each one amazing and fun to use.

THE KNIT KIT. What a cool little gadget. It contains the nine essential knitting tools every knitter needs to have handy at all times—all of them excellent quality and cleverly tucked into this handy gadget. No more having to dig and search for a stitch counter, tape measure, crochet hook, yarn/thread cutter, stitch markers, point protectors, darning needle, needle gauge and collapsible scissors. All nine essentials are in there and part of The Knit Kit. What a brilliant and clever gadget. I love it so much I just can’t stop knitting. About $30.

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Make Every Day Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving so much I would say it vies for first place in my favorite holiday lineup. I love and adore a classic Turkey Dinner with all the trimmings. I love the fall weather which always accompanies the day. I love the fact that Thanksgiving ushers in the winter holidays, offering me a front row seat on the very best time of the year. I love all of those things. What I don’t love is the idea that Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that we give thanks. Gratitude is too important in our lives to be considered briefly en masse on this, the last Thursday of November.

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Giving thanks and counting our blessings is good for us. It reminds us of the positive things in life. Gratitude turns bad things into good things, and reminds us to thank others.

Just imagine what might happen if our annual single-day tradition of giving thanks were to become a daily routine? Medical professionals suggest we would be rewarded with better health, as medical research reveals more about the strong connection between gratitude and good health.

And just as strong is the belief that stress can make us sick. It’s linked to heart disease and cancer. Shockingly, stress is responsible for up to 90 percent of all doctor visits. Just think about the financial costs associated with stress-related maladies. The antidote for stress is gratitude, as it calms our minds and lowers our blood pressure. Then, we are able to see our circumstances in a fresh, new light.

Even in the face of tremendous loss or tragedy, it’s possible to feel gratitude. Adversity can actually boost feelings of gratitude, a phenomenon that many of us experienced immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, as we saw the tremendous loss in light of what we still possessed. Read more

Your Best Thanksgiving Feast Ever—Healthy, Delicious and … Cheap!

If there’s one thing we should be thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s this: Turkey is cheap! And the rest of the Thanksgiving dinner can be, too.

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The secret to enjoying a traditional feast without overspending is to know a few tricks. I sat down with two highly respected professionals—a butcher and a personal chef. What I learned from John Smith, professional butcher and author of Confessions of a Butcher: Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$ and personal chef, Liz Tarditi, pretty much blew a hole in everything I thought I knew about buying, thawing and preparing a turkey.

TRICK #1: GET THE BEST TURKEY

Choosing the best turkey is easier said than done unless you fully understand the difference between a store brand or name brand bird. Just because a turkey is more expensive does not make it any better, says John. All that means is that it has a lot of advertising built into its price.

What customers don’t know is that one turkey processor will slap many different labels on his crop of birds. The turkeys are all the same, only the labels are different. This is a rule you can count on, according to John the Butcher: “Always go with the cheapest turkey and you’ll never go wrong. I’ve sold tens of thousands of store brand turkeys to very happy customers.”

EC: Fresh or frozen?

JS: First, let me define a “fresh” turkey. According to the people who make the laws, turkeys can be called “fresh” even though the moisture in the bird is frozen! If you press very firmly on the bird the meat is not frozen. The turkey processors have it down to a science. They bring the temperature of the “fresh” birds down to the very legal limit before sending them off to the store two weeks before Thanksgiving.

Frozen turkeys, on the other hand, are quick-frozen immediately upon butchering. So the freshest turkey is really a frozen turkey. The freezing process has no noticeable effect on the quality of the bird.

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Gift Baskets for the “Tremendous” Cooks on Your Gift List

If the idea of gift baskets for the cooks on your Christmas list piques your interest, you’re going to love this gift-guide, which continues to be very popular having posted last year to rave reviews and many notes of praise.

It is the late humorist and master of salesmanship, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, who said one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.” 

Lady with a cookbook

While he didn’t specify, I’m nearly certain Mr. Jones was talking about cookbooks. Reading cookbooks has changed me. Not only have they made me a better cook, learning how to do it and falling in love with the activity has impacted our household finances, tremendously.

Little by little, as I have become a better cook, we naturally eat at home more. The more I read, the more I cook; the more I cook the better cook I become and the more often we eat at home. It’s a beautiful thing!

The hubs and I have reached the point that eating out has become more of a “Do we have to?!” than a “We get to.” We eat at home, gladly, at least 99 percent of the time.

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DIY Holiday Gift Idea: Spa in a Jar

If you are at all familiar with a wonderful yet pricey personal care product, Salt Rub® by Origins, you may know that for some very odd reason, it has been discontinued. I know. How could they do this?

Origins now offers in its place some kind of ginger scrub concoction that contains sugar and spice. I think it is just awful, which makes me even happier that I know how to make my own version of Origins Salt Rub. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This may be the perfect gift you’ve been searching for—one you can make yourself for many on your Christmas Gift List.

A mixture of salt and oil, authentic salt rub resembles wet, slushy snow. Unlike bath salts that are used in a tub bath, salt scrub is used in the shower. So you have a better idea, before I tell you how to make it, here is the kind of instruction you would print on a tag or label for the finished salt scrub: Read more

How to Do Christmas Without Debt—Plus a GIVEAWAY!

If you are, or ever have been plagued by consumer debt, I can nearly guarantee expenses related to Christmas have contributed greatly to that miserable situation. You know I’m right and unless we do something to stop that pattern, things are about to get much worse for you. Christmas is right around the corner.

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The problem is procrastination. Face it, when it comes to Christmas, the longer you wait, the more you’ll spend. The opposite is also true. The sooner you get started, the less you’ll spend.

There are simple things you can do to stop procrastinating.

Get started. Do something to get moving. Once you are in motion, it will be easier to keep going.

Write it down. Reduce your plans to paper. Seeing things in black and white eliminates the unknown and provides a realistic playing field. Set reasonable limits both in time and in money.

Work with the time you have. Make a simple time line, then break the project down into small, manageable parts. Even five minutes is enough time to get something done when you have a plan. Read more

Still the Most Perfect Homemade Holiday Gift

To me, homemade Christmas gifts are the best gifts—both to give and receive. In the past I’d begin to scramble about this time of year to come up new and unique ideas for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues.

The purpose of these gifts is to deliver my love and best wishes for the Holiday Season. And if I can weave into these messengers a small Wow! factor, well that’s a bonus.

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What always made this so challenging was my list of criteria. My homemade gifts had to be easily mass produced. They need to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. And above all, homemade gifts must be affordable.

Several years ago, I came up with a gift idea that just nailed it. That was the year I made homemade Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract. This was such a hit it has turned into an annual tradition. No more scrambling for me.

Vanilla Exract

Each year about this time you can be sure the top cabinets in my kitchen are filling up with big glass canning jars that must be shaken every few days.

While in the past my extract-making has been limited to just one type (vanilla), this year I’m branching out to include lemon, almond, coffee and chocolate extracts. I was surprised to discover that the basic instructions for making pure extracts are about the same, regardless the flavor.

Any pure extract is a “tincture” where alcohol meant for human consumption extracts the flavor from the beans, fruits or nuts. Whether making an extract for baking, health purposes or for flavoring a beverage, it’s simply a matter of combining the food item with alcohol then giving it time to “extract” in a dark environment.

What makes an extract pure is that it has nothing added but the food item to be extracted—no corn syrup, fillers, sodium benzoate, colorings or other mystery ingredients found in most commercial flavorings and extracts—even those labeled “pure.”  Read more